A doctor for the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised people not to get too close to each other in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Dr David Nabarro said there should be more “social distancing” as the disease, officially known as Covid-19, continued to spread across Europe amid fears of a global pandemic.
The WHO coronavirus response envoy told BBC Radio 4: “The most important thing we are realising is it’s really infectious but it’s infectious if you are close up with people.
“So social distancing, learning to actually not have to be very close with each other, is really important.”
As of Wednesday, a total of 7,132 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK.
Of these, 13 have tested positive, eight of whom have since been discharged from hospital.
Some schools in the country have closed while others have sent pupils home for fear they may have been exposed to coronavirus during ski trips to northern Italy.
In Italy, the number of people infected grew 45% in 24 hours to 322, and deaths of patients with the virus rose to 11.
Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, while Spain and France recorded new ones, also involving people who had been to northern Italy.
The first positive test in South America has been recorded after a 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy tested positive, it has been reported.
Dr Nabarro said face masks were not effective in protecting against the virus.
He told LBC: "People misunderstand the face mask. They think it is about protecting themselves, but it's actually about protecting others if you are producing a lot of respiratory droplets.”
He added: "People tend to touch them a lot, and if you touch your face mask when it's wet, then whatever respiratory bugs you've coughed out will go on to your hands and then you'll put it on other surfaces.
"So generally no, it's not necessary to wear a face mask."
Health secretary Matt Hancock said official advice has been changed to say people who have been to anywhere in Italy north of Pisa should self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms on their return to the UK.
He told MPs on Wednesday: “We have a clear, four-part plan to respond to the outbreak of this disease: contain, delay, research and mitigate.”
Hancock said guidance has been published in recent days for schools, employers, first responders, social care and the travel industry.
He said: “If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited.
“There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education.
“In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.”
Hancock said it is important not to overreact in response to Covid-19 and that there is no clinical benefit to using thermal imaging at airports to screen passengers.
“Overreaction has its costs too, economic and social,” he said, “and so we have to keep the public safe but we also need to act in a way that’s proportionate.”
Public Health England announced that flu patients will now be assessed for coronavirus to see if it is spreading.
The total number of cases of coronavirus in China is around 77,150, while the death toll is approximately 2,592.
Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to some 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of around two dozen.